The Earth's clock is ticking

The 11th Hour

on August 17, 2007 by Annlee Ellingson
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The latest addition to a series of environmental documentaries that have found theatrical distribution since Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth captured both an Academy Award and nearly $50 million at the worldwide box office, the Leonardo DiCaprio-narrated, -co-scripted and -produced 11th Hour differentiates itself from others in the genre— Arctic Tale , Who Killed the Electric Car? and even Dr. Bronner's Magic Soapbox —by focusing on the big picture. In doing so, however, this highly intellectual and philosophical discussion risks alienating an audience who, discouraged by the bleak portrait presented in the film, may leave still wondering, “What can I do?”

DiCaprio walks a fine line here between exploiting his celebrity to attract viewers who might otherwise pass on the film and suggesting personal expertise on the subject. In addition to narrating the film, he makes limited onscreen appearances but for the most part maintains a healthy balance, leaving the large part of the narrative to a wide range of scientific and social experts, from Stephen Hawking to Mikhail Gorbachev to Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Wangari Maathai to former head of the CIA R. James Woolsey.

Structured loosely around such major themes as the birth of the planet, the evolution of homo sapiens, the discovery of oil and the resulting effect on the Earth, The 11th Hour introduces complex new ways of thinking about the issue. For example, in general there's a fundamental disconnect in the way humankind considers nature as something other than itself. And the Industrial Revolution marks a rupture in the history of man between a time when we relied on “current sunlight” and our current dependency on “ancient sunlight” such as oil and coal. The first supports a worldwide population of just 500,000 to 1 billion people. We are fast approaching, or perhaps have already exceeded, what the second will support. Finally, as one interviewee declares, “The Earth has all the time in the world.” It will regenerate. There just may not be any people left on it when it does.

It's not until an hour into this 90-minute film of talking heads throwing out a dizzying array of statistics that the tone shifts from despair to hope. But even then, although there is a call to personal action to “consume less, live more,” as the film's tagline reads, specifics on how to affect change on an individual level are limited. Examples of sustainable design are fascinating, but the big-picture outlook it represents can be esoteric and intimidating.
Distributor: Warner Independent
Narrator: Leonardo DiCaprio
Directors: Leila Conners Petersen & Nadia Conners
Screenwriters: Leonardo DiCaprio, Leila Conners Petersen & Nadia Conners
Producers: Leonardo DiCaprio, Leila Conners Petersen, Brian Gerber and Chuck Castleberry
Genre: Documentary
Rating: PG for some mild disturbing images and thematic elements
Running time: 94 min.
Release date: August 17, 2007 NY/LA, August and September exp.
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